The Wind Rises
Animated film by Hayao Miyazaki. Opens Feb. 21 at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas, in either original Japanese with subtitles or dubbed English versions. 127 minutes. PG
The wind rises!
We must attempt to live!
— Paul Valéry, Le Cimetière marin
At once melancholic and defiant, these lines from French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry open The Wind Rises, the gorgeous and avowedly final film from Hayao Miyazaki, the retiring Studio Ghibli animation great.
Originally expressed as a graveyard contemplation about mortality and the passage of time, these powerful sentiments infuse Miyazaki’s cinematic swan song, an unusual gesture toward reality from the fantasist behind such acclaimed works as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature at the March 2 Academy Awards, the film can be read as Miyazaki’s Amarcord or Fanny and Alexander, but it’s not technically autobiographical, as the Fellini and Bergman reflections were.
The Wind Rises blends the real-life stories of Japanese aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi and author Tatsuo Hori, whose novel The Wind Rises, also referencing Valéry, provides Miyazaki with a title while loosely informing his screenplay.
Yet there’s no doubt that Miyazaki, son of an aircraft parts maker, has put a lot of himself into the vividly hand-drawn and free-floating main narrative, set between the two world wars, that begins with the childhood of Jiro. He’s an introverted Japanese boy with thick glasses who stares at the stars, dreaming of aircraft and flight.
Jiro’s reveries take in visions of an Italian aircraft designer named Caproni (after a real aircraft manufacturer), who encourages the young romantic to join him above the clouds: “This world is a dream. Welcome to my kingdom.”
The impressionable lad will grow up to pursue this ideal, ultimately becoming the creator of the Zero aircraft, the flying marvel hailed for both its design brilliance and its lethal efficiency — it was the preferred Japanese carrier of death from above in the attack on Pearl Harbor and in kamikaze raids during World War II.
The Wind Rises thus becomes the story of a Japanese hero, one whom westerners would view as a villain. Yet Miyazaki isn’t taking sides, merely observing how the winds of fate often propel us into situations not entirely of our choosing and open to interpretation.
Similar duality is also seen in the secondary narrative, adapted from Hori’s novel, in which Jiro falls in love with Naoko, a girl he helped rescue from an earthquake. His romantic vision of her includes a seaside homage to Monet’s classic Impressionist painting Woman with a Parasol, but harsh reality finds Naoko stricken with tuberculosis.
The two stories meld as Jiro tends to his beloved while at the same time designing the Zero aircraft, the latter a task made more urgent and difficult by politics and war. The spectre of death forever looms over any thing of beauty, machine or human.
Yet Horikoshi’s motivation as an aircraft designer was simple and peaceful: “All I wanted to do was make something beautiful,” he once said.
These words inspired Miyazaki, and they take full flight in The Wind Rises.